The future of city schools rests with you fearless, bike-pedaling millennials
By Christine Carlson on Aug 26, 2014 10:00 AM
Frequent Inquirer contributor Clark DeLeon recently wrote that he “has given up on the Philadelphia public schools." He asks why any young person would want to send their kids to a public school here and wonders where the fearlessness of “the endless stream of young, hip parents biking their helmeted toddlers through Center City traffic or adjoining neighborhoods” goes when it comes time to choose a school.
I’m not a millennial (I was born at the tail end of the baby boom), but I can answer his question.
For an ever-growing number of young people all around the city, this fearlessness is being directed into supporting their own neighborhood schools. Millennials, it's been said, "think globally and act locally." They are philosophically committed to public education and have chosen to raise their children in the city.
And they are planning ahead.
When Graduate Hospital area resident Ivy Olesh and a few of her neighbors started the school support group Friends of Chester Arthur in 2009, most of them did not even have children. At the time, middle-class families in the neighborhood fled to the suburbs when their children reached school age. Now, FoCA is nearly 200 families strong.
Working with the school and community, it obtained a grant to install playground equipment and endowed a theater program. FoCA members also help tutor current students and implement technology for the school's teachers. Olesh said young families in her neighborhood are optimistic and are inspired by seeing individual schools shine. Her own son will enter kindergarten at Arthur next year.
One of the newer groups that have formed is 19125 Parents Coalition in Fishtown, supporting Adaire Elementary School. So far, the group has created a system for community members to buy school supplies and organized a teacher appreciation week. They’ve also arranged for trees to be planted around the school’s perimeter. Founding coalition member Denis Devine said, “We’ve endured the terrible news about the cuts and budget crisis besieging the District always knowing that we can make a difference in our own local school.”
Groups like these have formed all over the city, around neighborhood schools like Kirkbride, Southwark, Hackett, Lea, and Mifflin. And although they won’t solve the underfunding and the poverty that plague the District, they can make a positive difference in the quality of individual schools.
These young parents and parents-to-be didn’t march into their neighborhood schools and demand changes. Rather, they approached the school’s principal and simply offered to help. And when the District and principals are open to building relationships with the community, individual schools can flourish.
Right now, there are two opposing forces affecting our neighborhood public schools. The first is negative, driven by the ongoing political assault on urban public education. The result is battle fatigue, pessimism, and fear of the perception of the Philadelphia School District as a whole.
The second is propelled by the optimism of this young, urban-living-loving, civic-minded generation who see the value of economically, racially, and culturally diverse schools and are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved in their neighborhood schools.
I don’t know what side will win out, but I’m rooting for these fearless, bike-pedaling millennials. Ride on -- the future of urban public education rests with you!
Christine Carlson is a public school parent and the founder of the Greater Center City Neighborhood Schools Coalition.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.